Having had the opportunity to not only scratch the surface, but also dive deeper into the secrets of the many regions of Spain over my two year stay, I wanted to include something of interest to independent, adventure seeking travelers. Northern Spain is not on the quick, by the book Spanish experience with the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or Las Ramblas in Barcelona; however, many curious travelers choose it for its beauty, beaches, varied cultures, cuisines, and spirituality with the world renowned pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James.
I must say, I regret not taking the opportunity to do at least a portion of El Camino de Santiago while living in Spain, but I figure that my explorations and affinity for hiking will lead me that way once again. I did, however, make my way to Santiago for a puente (extended weekend) with wonderful pulpo a la gallega (octupus), pimientos al padrón (small sauteed, salted peppers), and taking in the end pilgrimage site, the Cathedral of Santiago (seen right).
As I have only experienced Santiago, I wanted to allow a trusted travel writer, Marina, from Destinia.co.uk to share more details on Bilbao, Santander, and Santiago. Enjoy or disfruta!
When visiting Spain, most tourists tend to stick to the large, cultural cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Many others choose the small coastal towns known for their beaches. Few decide to wander to the northern provinces, where ancient towns and rugged cliffs amaze those who venture into their land.
Bilbao, Basque Country
Bilbao, located in the Basque Country, is an historical city known for the Guggenheim Museum and its Old Town. In the Old Town visitors will be able to explore ancient cathedrals and churches. Ensanche is the New Town, located on the banks of the Nervión river and known for its bars, galleries and museums. The city is located a short ride away from Getxo, a smaller town with large mansions and several beaches. Visitors can take a walk along the promenade and enjoy the local architecture.
Both Bilbao and nearby San Sebastian, an historic city which attracts those who want to practice water sports such as surfing, are known for their traditional pintxos, small appetizers held by toothpicks that are served in bars with a beer. Typical pintxos are those made from anchovies and olives and those where a fresh piece of bread is drizzled in olive oil and topped by a local ingredient. While visiting this city many choose to try local pintxos near the Mercado de la Ribera market and the Unamuno square.
Santander, located in the region of Cantabria, is a city which used to be the summer retreat of aristocrats. Ancient manors, mansions and palaces line the stone streets, and festivals are organized on the windy beaches.
The Península de la Magdalena is a large peninsula and one of the city’s main attractions. There is an ancient palace, several gardens and a zoo where visitors can see penguins, sea lions and similar creatures. A small train covers most of the peninsula, and during the ride visitors will be able to discover the history of this coastal region.
A short ride away from the city is Santillana del Mar, an historic town. The town has ancient churches, cobbled streets and stone buildings, including the Romanesque Santa Juliana Collegiate Church. Near this historic town visitors will find the Altamira Caves, ancient caves which were found to have prehistoric cave paintings. The caves are closed nowadays, and visitors will be able to visit the large museum where the replicas of the caves are located. The museum can be considered Cantabria’s main attraction and holds one of the largest collections of prehistoric artifacts in the country.
Santiago de Compostela, Galicia
The northwestern region of Galicia, with its green landscape and rugged coast, resembles many Celtic regions. Santiago de Compostela, the final stage of the Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage route, is located in this region. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the city’s main attraction and the resting place of the remains of the apostle St. James. The cathedral is located in the ancient medieval district where visitors can enjoy the architecture, with many Baroque palaces, Gothic churches and Romanesque buildings.
**Guest post provided by Marina, travel writer for Destinia.co.uk, providing hotel and hostel bookings around the world including Spain.